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Establishing the C4ISR Center of Excellence

The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC) was big. It encompassed hundreds of facilities across the military, but it did so in what was much more a transformational approach to base closure and realignment than anyone might have ever thought.

One of the biggest transformations involved the Army’s Communications-Electronics Life Cycle Management Command (CECOM). Part of this included relocating CECOM from Fort Monmouth, N.J., to Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), Md., just outside the Washington, D.C., metro area, and establishing the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) Center of Excellence to better support the warfighter.

Providing support for communications and electronic systems across the board for the Army, CECOM’s mission is C4ISR engineering, acquisition, and logistics support to program managers and to warfighting units worldwide.

While the goal is to complete the move from Monmouth to Aberdeen by September of 2011, it’s more than just a relocation. It’s a bringing together of some components that frankly should be closer together to better effect the necessary changes dictated by the BRAC in 2005.

Army Team C4ISR town hall

Mike Valdez, Program Executive Office Command, Control, Communications, Tactical, addresses the Army Team C4ISR town hall meeting audience with his lessons learned and other advice concerning the relocation to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., from Fort Monmouth, N.J. Valdez relocated to APG in September 2008. U.S. Army photo by John Densmore

Perhaps most evident are the physical aspects of the relocation. The move takes C4ISR operations that CECOM itself said are “scattered among some 60 to 70 buildings” at Monmouth and brings them to a new, state-of-the-art campus at Aberdeen.

But Edward Thomas, deputy to the commanding general of CECOM, said it’s more than just a physical transformation. It’s an institutional change that involves aligning the command and its C4ISR partner organizations to operate as a more effective materiel enterprise, part of the Army’s institutional transformation.

“The Center of Excellence that we are building, that would be headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, is really the C4ISR portion of the Army’s materiel enterprise,” he said. “Our overall Center of Excellence’s role as being the C4ISR materiel enterprise is to optimize support for the warfighter by synchronizing C4ISR materiel lifecycle functions in support of the Army’s Force Generation [ARFORGEN] model.”

The center, he continued, is a partnership of Army Materiel Command (AMC) and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology (ASA/ALT) organizations that together will provide superior technology, acquisition, and logistics and industrial base operations in that C4ISR domain.

Besides CECOM, the AMC organizations in the C4ISR partnership include the CECOM Contracting Center and the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. The ASA/ALT partners are the Program Executive Offices for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical; for Enterprise Information Systems; and for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors.

Thomas emphasized that while C4ISR will have a new central home at Aberdeen, the reality is that it’s simply the headquarters for CECOM’s and its partners’ long reach around the globe.

campus auditorium

The campus auditorium at the C4ISR Center of Excellence. Photo courtesy of CECOM LCMC

As a “subset” of the Army’s Materiel Enterprise, C4ISR focuses on information issues and how to get that information to the right place at the right time on the battlefield to make sure that all of the Army’s various information systems work together and talk to one another.

“It takes a large family of systems type of testing to make sure everything all works together,” Thomas said. “That’s what our CECOM Central Technical Support Facility [based at Fort Hood, Texas] does.”

Perhaps most notable is the global reach of the Center of Excellence, which is emphasized by the fact that the headquarters at Aberdeen, while the “center of gravity” of C4ISR, houses only about 50 percent of the enterprise.

Thomas noted that aside from personnel at locations such as Fort Belvoir, Va., Fort Lee, Va., Fort Sill, Okla., Fort Hood, Texas, Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and Tobyhanna Army Depot, Pa., the center also has personnel co-located around the globe with each of AMC’s regional Field Support Brigades as well as individuals forward deployed with warfighting units in locations such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait.

It’s the 2.5 million-square-foot Aberdeen campus that will serve as the nerve center for this global operation and allow AMC and ASA (ALT) to leverage this opportunity to transform the organization and assure its relevance and efficiency, Thomas said. But with this dynamic comes some challenges.

The short-term challenge, he said, is the fact that only half the workforce from Monmouth is moving to the Aberdeen facility.

“We are losing a lot of the more seasoned, experienced personnel, and the challenge is to re-grow that,” Thomas said. “How do we bridge that gap for a couple of years until we can completely reconstitute and get up to full capability?”

But within this challenge lies the opportunity, he added, to select replacements for the half of the workforce that’s not moving.

sample lab space

Lab space at the C4ISR Center of Excellence. Photo courtesy of CECOM LCMC

“The idea is that when we are fully reconstituted, we will have a 21st century technically proficient global workforce that’s attuned to cutting-edge technology, that’s attuned to new teaming approaches, that’s attuned to enterprise thinking,” Thomas said. “The second thing is, we’re looking at this as an opportunity to improve cross-functional collaboration among the research and development personnel, engineers, the acquisition managers, and the sustainment community with an eye toward speeding delivery of new capabilities to the warfighter.”

Crucial to this was the ability for the principals who would move to the new center at Aberdeen to have the opportunity to design the campus to best support their needs.

“We sat down and we said, ‘OK, how do we characterize the business that we’re in and how can we physically locate our people to encourage and facilitate this cross-functional collaboration that we’re trying to achieve?’” he said.

Mission Focus

Above all, the mission must maintain its top priorities as it moves forward – and it must execute those in proper order. According to Thomas, the first responsibility is, of course, the support to overseas contingency operations. For the center, it’s primarily providing support to three main areas.

The first is the drawdown in Iraq.

“From a materiel perspective, that is clearly a huge mission for us to identify as we reduce the number of Soldiers in Iraq; we correspondingly need to reduce the amount of equipment that’s in Iraq,” he said. “There need to be determinations made as to where that equipment should go – some is going to go to Afghanistan, some will go to other needs.”

The second area in overseas contingencies is supporting the Afghanistan surge, which Thomas characterized as the reverse of Iraq, where they need to build up capability to support the fielding of additional equipment.

The third area, Thomas said, is to support the entire coalition and its partners through the Foreign Military Sales program.

In addition to supporting overseas contingencies, the second priority is resetting and modernization of the force to support the AFORGEN model.

This includes repairing or resetting equipment, fielding new equipment and software – particularly to increase capabilities –  and conducting training.

The third priority, of course, is moving through the BRAC process as smoothly as possible and getting the team established at Aberdeen Proving Ground with no mission degradation.

In support of this third priority, Thomas said the result was the conclusion that the C4ISR mission could be logically broken out into 13 broad business domains. But being able to co-locate different elements of the center of excellence at the new facility provided a synergy that was not possible at Monmouth, where the center was spread among dozens of buildings, sometimes miles from one another.

“As opposed to today at Fort Monmouth, where you would see all of the logisticians in one area, and then you would go to another area of the post and see the project managers, as we move to APG and to our new facilities, again, just use command and control as an example, the project managers that are engaged in managing battle command programs, the [research and development] system engineers that support command and control … all of those different entities will be co-located in one building.”

The intent, he added, is that that physical proximity, over time, will provide better effectiveness and efficiency in support of command and control capabilities for those in the fight.

USACE at C4ISR project

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff members pose with the contractor safety and management team at the C4ISR project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The Corps’ Philadelphia District, project manager for the Army, recognized the contractors with a safety award. U.S. Army photo by Steve Rochette

After the BRAC decision in 2005, Thomas said a crucial move was to enter a planning phase and then make a critical decision.

“In late 2007, we said, ‘You know what, we can’t just all sit here at Fort Monmouth and wait for the new buildings to be completely finished, and then try to move the entire command in one fell swoop in 2010 or 2011; we need to develop a strategy to establish a forward presence at APG and begin a more incremental movement of people and capabilities.’”

This wasn’t easy, as an early step was to find interim space at Aberdeen to accommodate personnel.

“We were able to secure nooks and crannies throughout APG North and South to accommodate early movement, and we began that with 32 positions right near the end of 2008, and we now have about 2,000 personnel on the ground [as of late August 2010], spread throughout various interim facilities at APG,” Thomas said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s serviceable, and we now have real capability at APG, so we no longer refer to them as our ‘CECOM Forward’ because … [it] represents really close to 25 percent of the ultimate objective workforce.”

Central Location, Global Reach

On any given day in U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), Thomas noted that more than 3,000 people are deployed forward, providing logistics, supply, maintenance and software training and “over the shoulder-type of training” to warfighters.

“Whatever support those Soldiers and unit commanders need in the forward area of operations, clearly, CENTCOM is a primary concern these days,” Thomas said. “Those forward deployed C4ISR personnel are our first line of defense, if you will, in terms of being right there with Soldiers and either fixing problems there if possible or communicating the problem back through those regional Army field support brigade commanders to our CECOM war room or operations center, which today is still located at Fort Monmouth but will be located at Aberdeen Proving Ground by the end of this year.”

That operations center is the single entry point for any C4ISR concern, worldwide. It operates 24/7 with a crew of subject matter experts in each of the center’s disciplines. Their job is simply to be able to understand any problem that comes their way from the field, providing the reach back capability through these individual subject matter experts.

“We have that funnel or that single point of entry that units and Soldiers worldwide can access,” Thomas said. “They are enabled from an information technology perspective … by something called our single interface to the field, so Soldiers worldwide, over the Internet can communicate, chat, [and] discuss their issue with various subject matter experts of the command.”

With the ability to push information back out into the field – through safety bulletins, new procedures, or whatever is necessary – this single interface provides the continuous flow of information to ensure Soldiers have the information they need at any time.

Couple this ability with forward-deployed subject matter experts who were not affected by the BRAC move, and the entire C4ISR mission – and move to Aberdeen – is able to be done while following the congressional mandate that there be no reduction in capability throughout the move from Fort Monmouth. For the people in the field and the Soldiers, this BRAC move must remain completely invisible.

Final Nuts and Bolts

Construction of the C4ISR Center of Excellence – internal and external – must be complete by September 2011, but personnel began occupying some of the new buildings in August, followed by the headquarters building, which opened in October. The rest of the buildings will come online incrementally through September of 2011, and it’s no small move.

“We’ve awarded a transportation or a movement coordination contract, and the company estimates that when all is said and done we will have approximately 1,437 moving vans full of furniture and equipment that will move from Monmouth to Aberdeen, and that means movement of anything from normal office kind of stuff to one-of-a-kind, very complex laboratory pieces of equipment,” Thomas said.

This article was first published in U.S. Army Materiel Command: 2010-2011 Edition.